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Community pharmacy cuts debate: Highlights


23 Feb 2016

Members of parliament gathered in Westminster to debate the proposed 6% cuts to community pharmacy.

Derek Thomas MP (St Ives, Conservative) initiated the debate.

I ask how community pharmacies will close – will it be by stealth or is there some kind of plan? There seems to be no plan whatsoever in relation to this.

Pharmacists don’t work for the NHS but more than 90% of community pharmacy income comes from NHS.

Sir Kevin Barron MP (Rother Valley, Labour)

Can the government provide details on how access to community pharmacy will remain in remote communities? We need to have something substantial in place to avoid chaos.

Key payments for pharmacies will be phased out with a drive towards warehouse dispensing – we really need to look at this. As well as dispensing medicines community pharmacies help patients stay out of GPs.

In 2014/15 pharmacy delivered more than 3.17m MURs – this is a lot more than just turning scripts over. Our communities and constituencies need this and if there are going to be changes it should be in a sensible and planned way.

Huw Merriman MP (Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)

Losing our pharmacies would impact all our constituents but I am particularly concerned about the elderly and vulnerable.

I understand it is essential for the NHS to make savings so it seems reasonable for the community pharmacy budget to contribute some of these savings. The concern I hold is that the proposed funding changes could impact the rural pharmacy that is miles from another and is more than a dispensing chemist.

Like the post offices our pharmacies act as the eyes and ears for the welfare of vulnerable people and provide footfall to allow our restaurants and shops to survive.

It strikes me that a better focus could be made on the volume of drugs that could be saved from over-dispensing. How much money could be saved for dispensing for shorter periods of time? The free delivery service also can be an area that could make savings.

Steve Pound MP (North Ealing, Labour)

We have had very little in terms of concrete proposals.

I fear I can see the handcuffs of the Treasury holding tight I feel the minister is beneath the terrifying thrall of the Treasury. It is a pathetic attempt to balance the books.

This is something the whole nation is concerned about.

To go into a modern community pharmacy, to have all the services, is something you never would have thought of before. This is to my mind miraculous mostly because it has been organic. All the more reason for this to be nurtured and supported and not threatened.

The cuts are against the grain of all the current thinking.

The NHS can be a 7-day service in community pharmacy. I know the minister’s heart is in the right place, I know he wants to say he will resist the Treasury diktat.

Oliver Colvile MP (Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Conservative)

The government needs to ensure the NHS’ money is targeted better. There is an oversupply or clustering of some pharmacies in specific locations. So how do we ensure we achieve the desired results – the reduction of clusters without damaging the pharmacy network?

Some large pharmacy groups may be willing to give up their leases on some of their shops with assurance those leases would not be handed over to another chain.

Pharmacy and community pharmacy in particular is undergoing unprecedented changes.

Pharmacy is increasingly seen as a large part of the solution to the problems in primary care. We need to support the innovative and changing roles.

I believe community pharmacy has a much wider role than just dispensing and prescriptions. The government needs to make sure the pharmacy is the first point of contact for minor ailments.

I question the DH decision to delay brining forward the necessary legislation to decriminalise dispensing errors.

Mark Williams MP (Ceredigion, Liberal Democrat) 

It is really important the outcome of this debate is that we support community pharmacy.

Graham Jones MP (Hyndburn, Labour)

1.8m people visit a pharmacy each day, they are an essential part of the pyramid of care. Community pharmacy relieves some of pressures on A&E, GPs and walk-in clinics.

The PSNC evaluation of Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) demonstrate increase in successful smoking quits among other services. The report also indicates HLP works in areas of difficult demography and geography.

But pharmacy is threatened from two directions – the funding cuts and market forces.

Roger Mullin MP (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Scottish National Party)

The use of market forces to cull pharmacies does not make any sense. The saving is less than half what the government would save if they would simply close the so-called Mayfair tax loophole.

Pharmacies supply a service to our communities that goes far, far beyond what we used to call the local chemist. They are highly qualified and, in many areas, may be able to provide expertise that goes beyond that of a GP.

Barbara Keely MP (Worsley and Eccles South, Labour) 

Community pharmacy provides essential services as we have heard again and again in this debate, as we have heard the gov announced the cuts on the day they rose for the xmas recess. That reduction will put significant financial pressure on the sector and result in closures and job losses. It is very hard to see there won’t be additional losses to patients.

Can the minister update us on the number of pharmacies he sees may close?

We want to see decisions based on better information than we have had.

Introducing cuts on this scale will not improve primary care outcomes. The government has failed to recognise the value of community pharmacy and patients will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Alistair Burt MP (North East Bedfordshire, Conservative)

I want to get some things on the record.

We are having this debate at a relatively early stage of the negotiations, many of the questions and issues raised are at the heart of those discussions – what services will there be, where is pharmacy going, how will the reduction be handled?

We think we know what the worst may be but we don’t yet know what the outcome will be

We would love to be in a  world where there is only improvement to the status quo – but life isn’t like that. The spending commitment the government has made to the NHS has to be found early.

It is not true that a reduction cannot improve services.

Sometimes change is inspired by necessity and change can be for the better.

Graham Jones 

Shouldn’t it be the principle that we are shifting money from secondary care – if we have to – to primary care?

Alistair Burt

That is a fair point but looking where efficiencies can be made. There are 11,674 pharmacies in England, that is a 20% rise since 2003.

It is the government’s contention that in the clusters just maybe there is something in there that money can be saved in one place where it can be used elsewhere for the delivery of services. We have to make the changes that others were not prepared to make and deliver the services.

Everyone in this room recognises the quality of the best pharmacy services and the value they place in our lives. I am a firm believer that the community sector already plays a vital role in the NHS.

But I also believe there is real potential to make far greater use of community pharmacy in England – our vision is to bring pharmacy into the heart of the NHS. We want to see it integrated into primary care.

We want pharmacists and their teams to practice in a range of primary care settings to help achieve the 7-day health service. By 2021 we will have invested 300m in the pharmacy integration fund.

Today there has been little said about where pharmacy might be going and what opportunities there may be.

We do recognise that some of the government’s proposals have caused concern, we are committed to maintaining access to pharmacy services.


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